I have a special friend on my street. He’s an old man of about 80 years and he lives about six houses away from me. I understand he retired from the public service and has, since then, remained a retiree. He did not do any other work, full or part time, since his retirement about 20 years ago.
We became friends some eight years back. Prior to that time, I had been observing him from afar. He was always there in the balcony of his one-storey house. He would either be sitting in the balcony or bending over the veranda’s steel railings; observing the happenings on the street.
On my way out one Saturday morning, I saw him walking towards the main road and I offered to give him a ride. He told me he was only walking the short distance to the bus stop to buy a newspaper, but I insisted he should join me in the car. That was how we became friends. Since then, as I drive past his house every time, I would stop to greet him from the car. It has always been any of the three lines: “E kaaro sir” or “E kaasan sir” or “E kaale sir” (Good morning sir or Good afternoon sir or Good evening sir). The old man is always there; morning, afternoon, and evening! This morning, I left the house a few minutes past 6.00am and he was right there in his balcony with his usual chewing stick. I can’t help but keep wondering whether he ever sleeps or leaves that same spot of his house.
I’ve always regarded the man as a very nice old man. Not for once have I heard any negative thing about him since I got to know him on that street. But I noticed something in him. He doesn’t appear to be so happy within. I don’t think money is actually his problem because he has some well-to-do children, and he’s a landlord. He collects rents from the many tenants that live in his big house. I think something is missing from his life.
We got to sit together for about two hours during the last Christmas and I could tell from what we discussed that the man is really missing his active days. He’s bored and lonely. Without anyone telling me, his usual routine of sitting in his balcony everyday is enough testimony of his idleness and unhappiness.
I have been thinking about this old man for quite some time, and something tells me that there is more to the issue of retirement than financial freedom at old age. When you retire, you automatically get credited with some extra eight to nine hours a day. What on earth would you be doing with such huge amount of free time at your disposal? Would you be sitting in the balcony of your house all day long like the man on my street? Kai, that would be so boring!
I’ve heard people say a number of things like, “I would be playing golf on retirement” or “I would be going to the theatre.” For how long would you continue to play golf or visit the theatre?
I think this is something each of us should give a good thought to before we reach our retirement ages. We focus so much attention on having enough nest eggs for retirement but usually fail to think about what to do with our time. If a retiree is not properly engaged on retirement, he would end up sleeping, watching TV, or just loafing around the house for the next 20, 30, or 40 years of his retirement life. He could also become a pain in the neck – absolute nuisance – to his children. If the retiree in question doesn’t have a strong heart, he could easily become a victim of depression; occasioned by loneliness and uselessness.
Loneliness in retirement is a result of poor retirement planning. As individuals, we may find it difficult to come up with great ideas about what to do with our old age. This is where the services of financial planners like the PFA officials and life insurance experts come in. It shouldn’t just be a matter of managing Retirement Savings Account (RSA) for workers, or selling annuity products to people. Rather, we ought to guide and advise them on how to make their retirement years enjoyable. It goes beyond money!
A recent survey of 800 American adults of between ages 60 and 74 revealed that taking care of the yard came first among the men, while spending time with grandchildren scored the highest among the women. Not too different from sitting in the balcony like the old man on my street. But come to think of it, what if there weren’t yards to tend; what if there weren’t grandchildren around to play with; and what if there weren’t house balconies to sit in?
While I do not canvass that a retiree should continue to face the day-to-day, 8am – 5pm problems of his normal working life, I equally believe that he should not remain idle at retirement. He should work with ease at old age. No doubt, the main purpose for working during this period of his life should not be to earn income for a living. Rather, it should be to fight boredom and maintain happiness. I like the way Bill Chavanne put it. He said, “Stay busy (when you retire). If you are going to sit on the couch and watch TV, you are going to die.” That, I think, is the brutal and bitter truth about retirement.
Granted that you cannot continue to play golf all the time (assuming you know how to play and you can afford to enter the golf course); granted that you cannot adopt playing with grandchildren as your next occupation; and granted that your house may not have a balcony; what, then, should you be doing at retirement? We have some help from Ernie J. Zelinsky, author of The Joy of Not Working, and How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. Here is her list of top ten activities you may want to consider:
- Start a Newspaper: Mary Baker Eddy was 87 when she founded the Christian Science Monitor;
- Obtain a University Degree. Doris Eaton Travis was 88 when she graduated with a degree in history from the University of Oklahoma;
- Learn How to Read Better: Franklin Tennessee resident David Eugene Ray was 99 when he started to learn how to read;
- Run a Marathon. Ed Benham was 84 when he ran a marathon in 4 hours, 17 minutes, and 51 seconds.
- Go to Jail for a Good Cause: Doctor Benjamin Spock was 83 when he was arrested at Cape Canaveral, Florida for demonstrating for world peace;
- Operate a Ski Club: Lloyd Lambert, at 87, was an active skier and operating a seventy-plus Ski Club that had 3,286 members including a 97-year old;
- Climb the Highest Mountain That You Can Find: Hulda Crooks was 91 when she climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental United States;
- Continue Working in Retirement as an Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright, a pioneer in the modern style and considered one of the greatest figures in twentieth-century architecture, was 89 when he designed his last building;
- Start a Symphony Orchestra: Leopold Stokowski founded the American Symphony Orchestra at 80 and recorded twenty albums in his 90s. At the age of 96, Stokowski – an eternal optimist no doubt – signed a six-year recording contract;
- Write a Book: At the prime age of 98, Jessie Lee Brown Foveaux sold her first book for a small fortune. The great-great-grandmother, an unschooled and unskilled writer, turned a memoir she wrote in a writing class for senior citizens into a book.
Those were the 10 great suggestions from Ernie but I don’t think number 5 on the list sounds like a good idea if you live in a country like Nigeria. Our jails don’t appear to be that friendly, most especially to old people.
But I have other suggestions that you can add to the list. Why not consider working in the church at old age? Our churches always have weekday programs so you cannot be short of which one to join. In fact, you may want to become a pastor or prophet after retirement. All you need do is to attend some training which can take up the first one to three years of your retirement period. It will keep you busy. I heard of a particular “School of Prophesy” on the radio a couple of days ago. It may be a great school to consider for enrolment.
Apart from pastoral work, you can consider joining one of the many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that are everywhere. A lot of them have good causes that you may want to be a part of. It will also be a great way of rendering voluntary services since you may not actually need the money at this stage of your life.
As I read the draft of this article aloud, my wife heard me and she shouted from the background, “Consider becoming a politician!” Don’t mind her. It all depends on where you want to practice your political adventure. Becoming a “baby politician” at 60something may not be a good idea in Nigeria. It could be suicidal.
As you think about old age and retirement just the way I do these days, always remember Mr. Jack.
I will like to leave you with this statement by one Hammond Stith who retired at the age of 61:
- “There are seven things you can do with your time [in retirement]: You can work and you can play and you can sleep. You can improve your mind or you can improve your health. You can work in civic activities or educational activities, or you can work in some spiritual area for the church. As far as I know, there’s nothing else you can do… And my retirement has been great. It’s better than anything I ever expected it to be.”
I shouldn’t go without repeating what I’ve always said about my retirement wish. Irrespective of whatever I will be doing during my retirement time, it is my utmost wish to be able to cross the Atlantic Ocean in my private yacht. So shall it be!
Hope you have helped me to shout a big “Amen!”